Sunday, 18 November 2007

musing...

Consider this:
If a single miracle occurs it removes all possibility that we have free will.

The question of free will looks different from the dusty pathways of the parched Sudan, the bloody streets of Palestine and Israel, from the banks of the filthy but sacred Ganges, the dizzy heights of the breathtaking Himalayan mountain peaks, or the lush cornucopia of Fifth Avenue in New York City. Did the sixteen-year-old child in the Democratic Republic of Congo holding the AK-47 to the head of the twelve-year-old, and forcing him to rape and then kill a young woman six months pregnant question free will? He thought there was no choice; he was repeating the same horror that had been visited upon him because he knew no other reality.
During the climbing season of 1996 twelve of the people who attempted to scale Everest, did not come down alive. One of those who did return walked out of the blizzard after spending the night in the open – no one survives that. Two of those who died were among the most experienced climbers in the world. Why did he live, why did they die? If they had chosen to not go on the expedition would they have died some other way that spring, or would they still be alive?
If there is some power outside ourselves that has predetermined our fate, should we not all retire to the library for cigars and brandy? If we are in control of our own fate, why should we feel compassion for anyone who is not doing well? It is, after all, their choice, yes?
The question of free will is like the question of reality in that it deals with perception. The reality of any given student at Oxford University is likely to differ significantly from a villager in the Hindu Kush, or does it? Does the student at Oxford have more or less free will than the villager within the scope of his own existence?
If we perceive that we have free will, whether it is true or not, do we live our lives any differently? If we do not have free will who or what has predetermined our fate? Is accepting some form of fate abdicating responsibility or embracing faith?


Miracle is a noun, not a verb, it is a result of action taken. The definitions in one and three have to do with how the act is perceived. Definition two lists a miracle as an unusual event. I would say in order to explore the nature of miracles; you first have to define the phenomena. Is it an event independent of other events, or an event that is the culmination of a series of events? In either case divinity, in whatever shape, can be optional. If one allows “the Church”, and by that I mean any religious organization, to define miracle; the definition is tainted by bias.

1. Determinism: every event is caused by another event.

2. Indeterminism: not every event is caused by another event.

3. Simple indeterminism: some events have no cause at all.

4. Libertarianism: (every event is caused, but) some events are caused (not by events but) by persons.

5. Every event has a cause.

In “simple indeterminism”…if human actions have no cause at all, then we in turn have no responsibility or freedom of action. Libertarian views state there are two causes of actions and events: event causation, and agent causation. This view leaves the door open for “forced” actions with prior events, as well as the intercession of will by the “agent” or person resulting in free will causing actions resulting in events.

Following the determinist, one would have to follow the path she is destined to take. She is “free” in the sense (according to the soft determinist) that this is what she “wants” to do, she would choose no other path, she is wired for these actions alone.
The Libertarian would say she is free to choose any of the paths she chooses.
Responsibility requires avoidability however; if according to the conditions stated the individuals have no choice, they have no responsibility. Does this then set the stage for divine interventions/miracles?

Fatalism follows the line of causal determinism – an event is “forced” by a previous event, which was forced by a previous event, which was forced by..bada bing bada boom, you have yourself a miracle– no choice, no discussion, no dither.

Divine foreknowledge is the concept that the individual is not responsible because his/her “path” has been predetermined by some divine intervention or knowledge. Humans seek the comfort of the divine in fatalism. The “freedom and foreknowledge” dilemma has been eliminated to some extent here, as divine intervention/miracles are reserved for the worthy.

Divine intervention/miracles must take place in a certain agreed upon reality. Indeed there are those people who convince themselves daily that what they want to be true is real, rather than what is in actual fact, reality. Speak with any fundamentalist, be they Christian, Muslim, Communist, or Nazi party member. Those who think that the beliefs of others make him/her so wrong as to require the death of those persons is creating a reality unto himself or herself. The more people in agreement with that version of Reality, the larger the reality ( the film Matrix). I do believe this behavior reaches a level that equates to the Matrix. I have had many opportunities over a span of years to observe and speak to such persons on different continents and it never ceases to astound me – even to the point of me checking my own reality just to be certain!

It is simple to understand. I mean really, the ease of it. A world where you believe in black and white. It is true or it is false. People are either on your side, or they are your enemy. There is a book, or a person, or a group, that tells you what to do – and you believe totally that this is Truth. The level of Justification is real for you; it never has to be questioned again. Do you see the lure of that? You decide once what is True, and you are done. What a relief! Divine intervention/miracles in this reality would be a natural consequence of the actions preceeding it/them.

Thinking, questioning (Socrates), finding (Descartes) what is true for you - is an ongoing, daily, difficult task. If you acknowledge life is an ongoing journey of discovery, that every day is the opportunity to find a better truth, a more expansive Universe, that means you question your reality every day. It means you acknowledge that there is more than one road to the Truth, and you may not have the map. Socrates, Descartes, Nietzsche, Jung, and Wheeler, Hawkins, and Einstein were all chaps poking at the edges of their reality to check that it was not a Matrix. This environment also leaves room for miracles, but would be more likely to question a divine origination.

The question, which has been asked before – are we the dreamer, or are we the dream; are we playing the game, or are we the pieces of the game; are we observing the hologram, or are we unknowingly being observed in the hologram? Just how can one be certain that the knowledge you are in possession of is “the” truth? How much do you want to know what is true, as opposed to what is real, if what is real is not as attractive as what is believed? Is it possible that more than one reality can hold the knowledge leading to what is true? Can there be more than one truth about the same belief? Is there more than one way to get to the reality that holds the knowledge that reveals truth? Is there more than one explanation for miracles, one that would leave free will intact?

What constitutes reality? Is reality a matter of agreement or a matter of fact, or a question of dimensions? I offer string theory and bubble universes, as well as the levels of reality described thousands of years ago in Hindu and Buddhist text, among others. If one is inside the box, and is unaware there is reality outside the box, does that reality outside the box still exist?

What is the sound of one hand clapping? If you cannot comprehend the reality of another, does that physical reality then cease to exist? What about the quantum realities of Schrödinger’s cat, forever at the mercy of the opening of a box? Because one cannot physically observe atoms, quarks, or muons, do we doubt their existence? At present, the scientific fact, truth, and reality is - all we can observe is where quarks have been, not where they are. Reality, truth, belief, and knowledge are indeed, tricky business.

If one believes it, then is it true, so now is it knowledge? Or does one have knowledge of belief, which leads in turn to truth?
Is it as simple as Descartes would have it – “cogito ergo sum”? Why is it important to find our way out of the Matrix? Is not one reality as good as another? Truth is insufficient to stand-alone. If one does not have knowledge of the truth, can one hear that rather infamous tree fall in the wood?

Nietzsche pointed out that “language is the first stage of scientific effort. …it is the belief in found truth from which the mightiest sources of strength have flowed. “ He goes on that Logic is, in and of itself, not anything real in the world, and that mathematics would indeed have had hard going had it been known at the onset there is no “exactly straight line in nature, no real circle, no absolute measure.” It poses the question, are these beliefs, this knowledge, built on straw? Is it all simply an agreed upon reality like - ‘time’? Is the miracle the act itself, or the reality in which the act can be accepted as Truth?

From the concept of realities, how great would it be if (and according to string theory, or more exactly M-theory it is possible) that for every wrong turn you took, there existed a reality where you took the right one? For every time the elevator door closed just before, you thought of the great comeback line, there existed a reality where you nailed it just in time. Where every possibility was a reality - the check did arrive in time, the vaccine did work, the guy got the girl, the peace talks were successful.... Yeah, String Theory there’s a miracle.

32 comments:

Randy Higham said...

Did Crushed take lessons from you, m'lady or have you been reading too much of him?

darth sardonic said...

i think the miracle is simply that we (and everything around us as well) exist period. the fact that we are capable of thought. the ability to sit in front of a screen and read the thoughts of others and process them, chew them up, regurgitate them as our own, the magnitude of iffy situations that congeal and cross at that spot to make that happen. that is a miracle. as for choice, damn, that is a tough one. i am with forrest gump, life is a little of both. you find yourself in situations, maybe because you chose, or maybe not, but then you choose to react to the situation. i loved this post, and wish we could hash over it at length over tea and crumpets, cause no doubt you would have replies or retorts to my comments which would in turn spawn a redirect in my case. and as long as we are still friends at the end of the conversation, it would be a good time.

Ian Lidster said...

Oh, you are intellectually challenging as well as beautiful, I see.
So, can we sit down and discuss this for hours and hours and hours?
What a brilliant offering from you, and I felt that I was back in senior university philosophy (which I loved, by the way).
I am essentially a libertarian (though I can be bought). I think I'm sort of a philosophical slut, in truth, and can be sweet-talked into altering my views if the logic is in place.
My wife is a great believer in quantum physics as the key to all of this. She believes in miracles, but that tangible elements and energies in the universe set it all in motion.
At my bottom line, I think miracles do exist and that they are pre-determined. Hmm. Do I contradict myself at this point?
Very well, then I do.

jmb said...

Your musing is a bit different from my musings!
A lot of questions here but no answers. I can't believe that things are predetermined so there has to be free will. But as you say, what kind of free will does someone have born into poverty and just able to exist?

If there are miracles I believe that they are accomplished within the framework of the laws of the physical world and that we do not understand their mechanisms as yet.

I'm hoping to know the answers to these questions after I die. In the meantime I live life trying to be the best person that I can be, trying to do the "right" thing according to Christian principles.

But as your commenter says, life itself and nature, they are miracles of themselves.

Wolfie said...

An excellent post which I enjoyed very much. These are questions I've spent most of my life asking myself and so far I think life is a complex mixture of all those in the recipe of existence. Life always has a way of surprising us :

http://blog.twowolves.co.uk/2006/08/03/the-spiritual-dimension/

Even the foundations of string-theory may be starting to crumble.

http://blog.twowolves.co.uk/2007/11/18/a-theory-of-everything/

I Beatrice said...

How could you DO such a thing to me? How could you break in like that, upon the serenity ( or call it the complacency if you like), of my wet (my very wet) Monday morning, with questions about Miracles and the Nature of the Universe?

I think I gave up asking such questions long ago. And if really pushed, could respond to you only by saying that if there is an answer to all your questions, then it’s one I haven’t heard . But if I were to strip myself bare of all pre-conceived ideas for a moment - my own or anyone else’s – I think that what I would see would be a world in which some are fortunate, others not; some good, and just as many bad....

Very little sign of a Master Plan there, it seems to me. In fact the word which springs most immediately to mind in summary of it all, is merely Chance. Chance that we should have got here at all – chance certainly, that we should have developed in the way we have. Good for some – intolerable for others.

A bleak view? Yes, perhaps. But at ten o’clock of a wet Monday morning, I’m afraid it’s the best I can do......

Bogger Blogger said...

My my what big questions you raise....all the better to visit more often my dear.

debio said...

Excellent piece, Lady M.

I'm not sure where I stand in your list.

I'm not sure that there is even a Truth, that there is an answer; that which has been sought since the beginning of time.

Miracles only happen because we define them as such; the unexpected happens only because the occurrence was outside our experience and thus not 'written in ' to any equation as a possibility.

The reality in which we individually live is the only Truth - and that, in my experience, goes no way to answering any of the 'big' questions.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Absolutely brilliant, Lady M. Yes, free will is a matter of the circumstances in which you find yourself. I, do, have had many conversations with fundamentalists of all sorts and have ended up questioning my own sanity. But I never thought how easy, in the way you point out, it is before. Yes, searching for "your" truth is painful and hard.

Winchester whisperer said...

From the concept of realities, how great would it be if (and according to string theory, or more exactly M-theory it is possible) that for every wrong turn you took, there existed a reality where you took the right one?

I know somebody who believes that that is what happens in Heaven: you can watch the video of your life and also video versions of what would have been, had you made other decisions. As far as I can see, this would take an eternity...

mutleythedog said...

I was going to write this post - but you have got there first Your Ladyship!! This shows how much we have in common I think! I have to say that there is a lot we can never know isn't there? I am not suggesting we should not discuss things that are unknowable rather that to do is to accept that no conclusion is possible....

Pamela Jeanne said...

Clearly I need another cup of coffee and more time. At 7:30 am with the cobwebs of sleep preventing my synapses from firing properly I'm not equipped to fully comprehend the depth of this post. And I need to head to the shower to get on with my commute to the office. Will return when I have more time and a greater capacity to ponder...

lady macleod said...

Bloody hell, all my readers ARE genius level! Wow, I love the responses. I can't today, but I will answer every one tomorrow. Thank you all for supplying more food for thought, and reassuring me that there are many 'out there' who are thinking.

Ellee Seymour said...

We have to be able to make mistakes in life and learn from them, hopefully not repeat them, but that's not always easy.

I Beatrice said...

I watched a programme called "the Quantam future" last night - and see that reality as we know it is just about to go out the window anyway.

So it seems to me now that in Science at least, we are still pretty much one step ahead of the game. And miracles ARE possible!

(MG, there are some clever people out there!)

I Beatrice said...

POSTSCRIPT (shock horror!):

All my former fine words fall down, on the simple (but unforgiveable) mis-spelling of one crucial little word:

It should have been QuantUm , not QuantAm....

(See how the future of the planet could collapse, for want of a single letter of the alphabet!)

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lady macleod said...

randy higham

I think it is in the cosmic-air m'lord.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

darth

I too would enjoy a long afternoon over tea/coffee to discuss the fate of the Universe with you - a man with much to say. Meanwhile I will content myself with your marvelous blog renderings.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

ian

It is a topic for hours and hours I agree. It is a fascinating topic isn't it, and more the interesting as we can find no facts to support one view over another - but there's the fun eh?

I find someone who is not able to change their views when presented with superior data - not much fun to talk to! Or course there are other words... I ALWAYS hold out the one sure thing that I could be wrong.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

jmb

It is true I offer no answers; if I could I would write THAT book! I like your explanation of miracles, quite good.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

wolfie

Thank you, I'm pleased you enjoyed the post. I shall check out the post you listed.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

i beatrice

You may well be right, but oh how I hope you are wrong in this circumstance. The fact that I rail against Chance being the deciding factor will have something to do with my being a person who seldom relinquishes control.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

bogger blogger

and I hope you do!

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

debio

An excellent viewpoint my friend. I enjoy your input, as always.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

welshcakes

Just once it would be nice if it were easy eh?

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

winchester whisperer

Oh my I'm not sure that would be my idea of heaven! Imagine the regret! yikes. But an interesting view nonetheless.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

mutleythedog

We are so often in sync love. Oh but with me, as with others, the idea that there is an answer is a truth in itself that we must seek it.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

pamela jeanne

It is always good to hear from you, in any state.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

ellee

Oh if only!

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

i beatrice

Thank you for the additional data, always interesting.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

m.t.i

thank you and I will.

and thank you for coming by.